Arena joins Red Bulls; coach cautious about U.S. team
NEW YORK -- Bruce Arena has a message for American soccer fans: Be patient.
Arena took over the struggling New York Red Bulls on Tuesday, but also predicted that his former squad -- the U.S. soccer team -- would not win consistently at the World Cup until 2018.
"Why did I say 2018? Because I know that it's not going to happen in 2010, 2014," he said at his introductory news conference. "We have a long way to go. To get there, you've got to know where you are. It's the same thing with this team. If I told you, we were going to compete for the MLS Cup right away, if I told you we were going to win a World Cup in 2010 ... who's going to believe that?
"We made progress in this World Cup. But we do not have players of the quality and experience of the teams in the group that ended up in the last eight."
Red Bulls fans may also have to wait. The club is 3-6-8 this season -- the fewest wins in the league -- and is last in the Eastern Conference with 17 points. Only Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference has fewer points.
But Arena is in familiar territory. He knows how to rebuild.
Arena took over the U.S. team in October 1998, shortly after the Americans finished last of 32 teams at the World Cup. He brought them to respectability in 2002, taking them to the quarterfinals and raising hopes that the U.S. could field an even better team in 2006.
But those hopes were dashed at the World Cup last month, when the U.S. failed to advance to the second round after losses to the Czech Republic and Ghana and a draw with eventual champion Italy. Last week, Arena and U.S. Soccer agreed to part ways.
Arena believes a growing MLS will eventually help the U.S. compete better at the World Cup, as well as getting more Americans to play in Europe. But after the U.S. was eliminated, some thought Arena took a swipe at MLS because he said more players should go abroad.
When asked about those comments and his return to MLS, Arena declined to say much of anything.
"I'm not going to worry about the league," Arena said. "I'm going to worry about the Red Bulls. When I was technical director of the national team, that was my job. Now, this is my job."
Arena said he had a feeling in January he would not return as national team coach. Though he had no interest in MLS, Arena started talking to the Red Bulls after the U.S. was eliminated and changed his mind because he thought the organization had many positives to offer.
He agreed to a deal about two weeks ago, and had it in place when he spoke to U.S. Soccer about his future as national team coach last Thursday. It was the first time they had spoken since the U.S. was sent home from Germany.
"We never got into a conversation Thursday that would lead me to believe they wanted me back," Arena said.
The feeling was mutual. Red Bulls managing director Marc de Grandpre said they had their eye on Arena from the moment they fired coach Mo Johnston on June 27. Richie Williams was elevated to interim coach, and Arena will take over for him Aug. 12 when the Red Bulls play Barcelona at home.
"We made a long list, and only one name came back to the surface, that was Bruce," de Grandpre said. "He was our No. 1 candidate, and we got our guy."
Arena won more than twice as many games than any other U.S. coach, going 71-30-29 in 130 games with the national team. Before that, he won or shared five NCAA titles as coach of Virginia, won two MLS championships with D.C. United and also won the CONCACAF Champions Cup with D.C.
He is ready for the challenge of remaking yet another club.
"We're going to try to build a good team here," Arena said. "I know it's been said before ... we still have a long way to go."